After years of waiting, it appears that To Appomattox is finally picking up steam, with a realistic chance for this project to finally be filmed. As discussed on this blog numerous times, the series is going the way of a Kickstarter campaign, which will seek to receive funding from fans, in order for the first two episodes to be filmed and shopped as a backdoor pilot. If it is successful, the remaining eight episodes would then be picked up by a network. If not, then they would be released independently as a film. Producer Michael Beckner has done something unique here, and that is getting fans actively involved, not just with funding (which will provide rewards specific to the amount donated) but with the “creative” process as well. Dating back to last year, when I spoke to him via phone, he expressed his sincere hopes that this series would be one “of the people”. The Civil War community is a rabid one; a group of people always craving—no, starving—for projects related to the genre. They also demand historical accuracy, something difficult to attain in mainstream media. But that aside, are there enough potential contributors out there for this money to be raised?
In the late 1990’s, it was estimated that there were roughly 50,000 Civil War reenactors out there. Based on research, I believe that the number is a little bit lower now, since the hobby is so expensive. However, the reason why I bring this is up is because it is they who will end up becoming a large chunk of the needed contributors. More often than not, reenactors are selfless; lending themselves to film productions for free, which is payment enough in knowing that the product will at least look right. With this being an opportunity to appear on-screen, you would have to think they will jump at the chance to help with the actual production. If every reenactor contributed a mere $10 each, that would be roughly $500,000 right there, or 20% of the total needed. Throw in general history buffs, fans of individual actors (and even the country music stars appearing with cameos), educators, and wealthy donors in the industry just looking for a film credit, and this definitely has a chance of happening. The potential pool to draw water from is enormous.
This evening, I had a chance to catch up on the progress of the series with writer and executive producer Michael Beckner, by phone. Below are the highlights of our conversation:
- Beckner was inspired to push the envelope with a Kickstarter campaign after receiving a rude but enlightening comment from a fan, stating he was “acting too much like McClellan, and not enough like Grant”. He agreed with this user’s remark, and admits that it “woke him up”. Using this means of finance also gives them more creative control over the finished product. This will be the largest project ever hoping to be financed by Kickstarter, and right from the get-go they “loved the idea” because it appeals to their “sense of community” to get something done.
- The April 16 deadline for the campaign to begin is set in stone. Beckner remarked that seeing the countdown on his profile page makes him feel like Dr. Strangelove waiting for the bomb to drop. He says he has been incredibly lucky to meet so many supportive people at Kickstarter, and there are workers in the film division who are on hand to help the production staff at any time.
- This truly is going to be a series of the people. He promises that once the pledge is made, it is not over, but that donors will be “on the journey” the whole way with him. He also spoke of some very unique options which donors can select from. Aside from ones that award items, fans can choose to donate money to a specific aspect of the production. Don’t like the way beards have looked in past Civil War movies? Well, you can make your pledge go directly to the hair and makeup department, and then receive on-screen credit as a contributor. There are several kinds of these pledges that fans can donate to, each in a group with a set number of people, like 25. There is another grouping for people interested in CGI and special effects, where donors will have a chance to see the effects and give their critique of them (accuracy and overall look) before it gets locked into the picture. For people interested in casting, there is an option to be in the casting room with the production team, to lend an opinion of the acting at hand. Lastly, one of the more exclusive options, for only four people, will give them a chance to appear in the movie in a small role, which they can select from the script, if uncasted. The price levels will obviously range for each of these.
- Beckner also wanted to reiterate how this story belongs to all of us. “I wrote the episodes and conceived the series,” he said, “But in the end, this is everybody’s story”.
This will truly be the one of the most unique productions in the history of television, and whether it is a success or not, could set a trend for big-budget projects to go this route. There is a lot of potential support here, and excitement, but the important thing here is to go one step at a time. We all want to see the full series, but right now, what needs to happen is just getting this campaign going and these first couple of episodes out there. Even if they end up being released as a movie, with no episodes to follow, that will still be a victory for the Civil War community. As they say over at To Appomattox, “Our Country. Our Story. Our Series.”